My Fair Deity


The Evolution of God, by Robert Wright – People claim that God is unchanging, but actually God has changed quite a bit over the ages. Well, the human conception of God has, anyway. This book describes the changing view of deities from ancient civilizations through the development of the Abrahamic religions, focusing on such elements as the triumph of monotheism in Israel and the contributions of Jesus and Muhammad. An important theme was that views of the divine changed due to what was happening in the world, with political and cultural shifts often altering religion. We learn about how Paul modified a minor Jewish sect into a cosmopolitan religion that reflected the needs of the vast Roman Empire, and Muhammad’s changing attitudes on violence and other religions as seen throughout the Quran. Also interesting is the author’s theology, which you might think from the examples I’ve given is totally atheist, but Wright actually comes across as a firm agnostic who refuses to take a side. He admits that he doesn’t know whether God exists, but suggests that, IF He does, the changes in religion have likely brought mankind closer to grasping His true nature. Also, the fact that our society has become global, and hence people often rely on followers of other religions, tolerance is not only increasingly possible, but necessary as well.

At one point, Wright quotes William James on the definition of religion, saying that one of the best ways to explain it is that it “consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto.” By this definition, people who believe in a supernatural order but don’t personify it or refer to it as “God” are still religious. I actually like this definition, but I’m not sure how well it would go over with the general public. It appears to be quite popular nowadays for people to insist that they’re spiritual rather than religious, and even some followers of specific religions argue that they’re not really religious because they’re not dogmatic about it, or something like that. As someone who considers myself genuinely not religious (which doesn’t mean all my beliefs are rational, mind you, but more that I think rational explanations are always POSSIBLE), I’m not sure how “religion” came to be a bad word. I tend to think belief in a cosmic order is religious, whether or not there’s a bearded man on a cloud involved. I guess this does leave the question as to whether people who think there’s an unseen order, but that it’s a BAD thing would be considered religious, but the question probably doesn’t arise under the vast majority of circumstances. I mean, nobody REALLY worships Cthulhu, do they?

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4 Responses to My Fair Deity

  1. I so appreciate agnostics, as a scientific-minded believer! It’s my opinion that agnosticism is the starting-point that everyone should start from, and there’s this little thing called Faith that just separates the believers from the non-believers– rather than stubborn I’m-right-you’re-wrong-ness. I am all for Wright’s take on the matter! I am forever bugged by atheists who take the “I don’t believe in God because I’m LOGICAL and INTELLIGENT and I THINK THINGS OUT and I LIKE SCIENCE and–” “SHUT UP ALREADY SO DO I!!!!!!!!!!” I interrupt them. Likewise I’m bugged by the believers who refuse to question exactly what they’ve been taught, and try to speak for all believers as they stand up for their particular dogmatic beliefs– I see why people are afraid to call themselves “religious” because so often THAT’S what people assume when you say that. I KNOW I’m technically a heretic, but I’m also a believer, even a religious believer, but can I claim to be “religious” when I’m not Like That?

    So it’s a relief to see someone who’s all about being open to the possibilities, and I agree, I think people HAVE gotten closer and closer to a True concept of God over time, and I DO like his definition about Belief in an Unseen Order, because that IS what I believe, basically. I’m sure there are dogmatic types who don’t approve, but I think the MAJORITY of the mainstream world would go with this definition. Which is why “religion” has gotten to be a bad word– because the majority of people really AREN’T as dogmatic as the dogmatic minority would have you non-believers believe. If that isn’t the most convoluted sentence…

    • Nathan says:

      I suppose everyone WOULD start from a position of agnosticism if they weren’t influenced so heavily by society.

      • vilajunkie says:

        I agree with both of you, and to Nathan’s reply, I’d say that I remember as a kid, there was a lot of “magic” about things I didn’t have any clue how they worked. Half-serious, half-joking when I was really young I thought of credit cards as “magic cards”, even though magic isn’t involved. Or is it?

        We base monetary transactions through credit cards on the faith that intangible, imaginary money will go from our intangible, imaginary deposit box into the intangible, imaginary deposit box of the person or company we’re using the card for.

        Unless you have all of your money in paper and coin form, most of the money you believe you have is, in truth, imaginary. And even paper money is governed by the idea that they have intrinsic, quantifiable value. In the earliest days of the US Bank, paper money *did* have value because one dollar was equal to a definitive amount of harvested crops (X number of bales of hay I think). But the value of a dollar eventually took on a different value–it’s now valued at one dollar because it says it’s one dollar, not because it marks itself as exchangeable for a set amount of tangible products.

        We really might as well write “One US Dollar” on any old scrap of paper and hand it in to a cashier since dollar bills are just fancier, “con-proof” versions of that.

      • Nathan says:

        The monetary system really is based on faith, although it’s a faith that’s enforced by the government. If I decide money isn’t worth anything, I won’t be able to get along too well in society. Then again, in some countries, that’s the way religion is. As for credit cards being magical, I could see someone not familiar with the concept thinking they are. Sufficiently advanced technology is difficult to distinguish from magic, or whatever the saying is.

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